South Florida criminal defense attorney Bradford Cohen has built a career by speaking well and speaking plenty. He has faced down Donald Trump as a contestant on The Apprentice, jabbered onscreen with the likes of Nancy Grace and Dr. Phil, and represented rappers, athletes, and sundry semisuperstars in court. You probably don't know his name, but you may well have seen his square jaw and bald dome on TV.
But at the federal courthouse in downtown Fort Lauderdale on January 12, Cohen told the judge that he was nearly at a loss for words.
"I just don't know where we are going," Cohen said, according to the court transcript. "I feel like I'm on The X-Files."
Cohen wasn't far off. Unwittingly, he'd entered a world known to some as "The Birtherverse," where Barack Obama isn't considered an American citizen and the planets revolve around a California dentist turned lawyer named Orly Taitz.
Despite the fact that the Hawaiian state government issued a statement last year confirming that "Barack Hussein Obama was born in Hawai'i and is a natural-born American citizen," the "birther" cause — which posits that the president hasn't shown himself to be eligible for office — lives on.
Taitz, a resident of Laguna Niguel, California, has seen nearly every one of her more than half-dozen lawsuits across the country challenging Obama dismissed, and yet she remains the public face of the movement. In January, she announced she would seek the office of California secretary of state in the 2010 election.
Although self-styled "eligibility" activists like Taitz, after more than a year of trying, are no closer to providing any credible evidence that Obama is a "usurper," the internal fissures in their movement have steadily grown — which led to the January 12 hearing in which Taitz, with Cohen's hired help, squared off against three of her more colorful allies turned enemies.
The case was Rivernider et. al vs. U.S. Bank National Association, a dispute that doesn't seem to have anything to do with birth certificates. Taitz herself isn't even a party to it. It's a suit filed by Charles Edward Lincoln III, a portly, verbally effusive, disbarred lawyer who, from June to November 2009, worked as Taitz's legal clerk. And it's about real estate: The Riverniders, a married couple, are trying, with Lincoln's help, to prevent their Wellington home from being foreclosed upon.
In October 2009, Taitz signed and filed a request to be added to the case as attorney for Lincoln and the Riverniders. The judge rejected that request on the grounds that Taitz was from out of state and had no local lawyer to vouch for her. When Taitz was notified that an amended version of that request had been filed a week later — bearing what appeared to be her signature — Taitz sent a letter to the court. She hadn't sent that second request. Her signature, she said, had been forged.
That's why the January 12 hearing was called: for U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Lurana S. Snow to determine whether to punish Lincoln for allegedly misleading the court.
Somehow, though, Taitz ended up on the witness stand, facing questions from one Philip Berg, a former Pennsylvania attorney general. Berg has called Taitz a "menace" and, in May of last year, filed a slander lawsuit against her. In Fort Lauderdale, though, he was representing Lincoln.
"Isn't it true that you had relations, sexual relations, in your dental office with [Lincoln] on November 3, 2009?" Berg asked Taitz at one point. Taitz didn't answer; Snow — for neither the first nor the last time — told Berg that the question wasn't relevant.
Taitz and Lincoln do have a history. "It was a professional relationship to start out with," Lincoln said on the witness stand. "But frankly, I fell in love with her, and we did have a romance."
That revelation shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who's been paying close attention to Taitz's travails. In October, Lucas Smith — a felon who had supplied Taitz with what was purported to be Obama's Kenyan birth certificate and who later had a falling-out with Taitz — published an "affidavit" that, among other things, quoted Lincoln as confiding that Taitz was "hotter, hornier, wetter, tighter, more of a nympho than I've ever met." In December 2009, Lincoln himself posted on his blog a letter he had sent to Taitz in which he said Taitz, who is married, had wanted Lincoln to live in San Clemente as her "boy toy."
"I'll bet you didn't tell [your husband] what we did on your dentists' chairs, or if you did, I'll bet you didn't describe it in much detail," the letter read.
In court, Lincoln provided the exact date and time when he says Taitz ended their relationship — 9:56 p.m. Wednesday, November 4 — saying, "It was the worst thing that happened to me in 2009."
For Taitz's part, she has never directly addressed the issue of whether she had an affair with Lincoln. In court, Cohen objected every time Berg asked her about it. She didn't respond to a request for comment for this article, but in an email in December, Taitz categorically classified everything in Lincoln's love letter as "garbage and slander."
She said similar things about Smith, who made a surprise appearance in court on Lincoln's behalf. Berg called him to the witness stand, where he testified that Taitz had asked him to lie under oath when they appeared together in September at the Ronald Reagan Federal Building and Courthouse in Santa Ana, California. When Taitz later returned to the stand, she repeatedly blasted Smith's testimony as "perjury" and attempted to attack Lincoln's credibility by saying he drove a rental car far longer than he should have, on her dime.
In prehearing affidavits, Lincoln never admitted to forging Taitz's signature. In court, though, he said he did sign her name — but with her permission. During cross-examination, Cohen accused him of changing his story — to which Lincoln's only defense was carelessness. "You are in fact a Harvard PhD, correct?" Cohen asked Lincoln. "Yeah," Lincoln replied, "but I'm very imprecise when it comes to Orly Taitz."
Taitz denied ever giving anyone permission to write her signature. Judge Snow seemed aghast that Lincoln, a former lawyer, would think it was all right to sign as someone other than himself — regardless of whether he had permission to do so. "I'm just baffled," she told Lincoln. But in her ruling, filed February 9, Snow refrained from placing sanctions on either Lincoln or Taitz, reasoning that there wasn't sufficient evidence to say either one had purposely misled the court.
Reached over the phone earlier this month, Cohen laughed about the "interesting" day in court he had with Taitz. The Fort Lauderdale-based attorney is used to representing well-known clients, but this one caught him off guard. "Usually I know who I'm representing before everyone starts calling me and telling me the case is high-profile," Cohen says. "I didn't have any clue about who she [Taitz] was or what she was about when she called my office."